Strategies: No Time (and Temperature) Like the Present

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, February 1995

Strategies: No Time (and Temperature) Like the Present
By Mark Jannot

The beauty of winter's aerobic triumvirate -- cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing -- is that it offers a comprehensive fitness program. One sport will challenge your upper body, one concentrates on the lower body, and the third leaves you gasping for air, just like a good set of sprints. Each activity can also prepare you for a springtime pursuit -- be it hiking, cycling, even swimming. "Last winter my pool time was minimal and I spent a lot of time skate-skiing," says elite triathlete Ray Browning. "My hair returned to its normal color, and the following summer I swam as well as I ever had." Whether your goals are cosmetic or something a little deeper, here's a guide to matching the snow sports to their warm-weather brethren.

Cross-Country Skiing: Upper-Body Gains
Skating on cross-country skis recruits the full complement of lower-body muscle groups: hamstrings, quads, glutes, and hip extensors and flexors. It's also one of the few winter activities that taxes the upper body: your lats, deltoids, triceps, and abs, all of which are heavily used in the skating motion. Hence skate-skiing is great for climbers, paddlers, and swimmers. "In poling, as in swimming, you have to put your hands out in front of you," says Browning. "And the finish of a skating stride, when you push your poles behind you, is very similar to swimming." Browning also recommends some classic-stride skiing. "With skate-skiing, it's easy to push your heart rate up really high. Your body needs some easy training efforts, which you can get when you're kicking and gliding."

Downhill Skiing: The Promise of Power
Lots of alpine ski runs take no longer than about 90 seconds to get down -- and that's just fine when you want to develop explosive strength. "It's a natural for interval efforts," says Steve Johnson, the U.S. Ski Team's director of sports science. "It develops your anaerobic power." According to Johnson, training on downhill skis can ultimately come in handy any time you're going to need a burst of energy, whether it's sprinting on a mountain bike or climbing a steep hill in the middle of a 10k. Getting in lots of vertical feet on skis can also help runners, hikers, and racket-sport players: Skiers constantly elongate muscles as they head down a slope, just as hikers do pounding down a trail, and the side-to-side motion of downhilling is similar to movements on the court.

Snowshoeing: Endurance and Then Some
Snowshoeing is a lot like running -- in gravel. But the resistance of the snow and the added weight and bulk of the snowshoes are what make the sport such a good tool for building up your quads and your endurance. You can prepare for upcoming spring running races with snowshoeing competitions -- both Redfeather Snowshoes (800-525-0081) and the Tubbs Snowshoe Company (800-882-2748) sponsor national race series -- or for the cycling season by doing steep-hill repeats: Climbing in snowshoes works the hip flexors and extensors, crucial muscles for riding. Be careful on the descents, however, for a snowshoe's cleat can grip too well. "As soon as the snowshoe hits the snow, it sticks," says Browning. "If you're not careful on a steep downhill, you can rip your quads to pieces."

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